Though Corum is a relatively new brand in an industry that venerates tradition and heritage, the La Chaux-de-Fonds brand has to its credit produced some of the most distinct watch designs out there today. From the iconic Bubble watch to the Golden Bridge featuring a baguette movement, Corum knows a thing or about being different. Founded in 1955, Corum is now owned by Hong Kong-based Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group Limited (formerly China Haiden) and is now part of a stable that also includes brands like Eterna and Rotary.
Corum, which makes about 10,800 watches every year, is undergoing a resurgence under a new Chief Operating Officer (COO), the New York-born Italian Davide Traxler. Suave and articulate, Traxler is a veteran having worked with Bulgari and Chopard in the past. In the first 12 months since taking the helm at Corum, the brand has shown a whopping 80 percent growth over its previous year. We get the lowdown from Traxler.
On his top priority since taking over
Traxler: I arrived in October 2015 and found three things needed immediate fixing. First, we had to get what I called a cultural cushion. Let me explain: we are a company with very deep roots in Switzerland but owned by a Hong Kong-based group. There were some difficulties in communication between these two ends. So I had to get that cultural cushioning right. Secondly, I had to motivate our staff and get them all aligned with the goals. But the biggest work was trying to find out what the market wanted. So I traveled around the world to listen to what they had to say.
On reacting to market feedback
By September 2016, we had grown 80 percent on the previous year. I would say we have been lucky to expect this kind of result. The relaunch of the Bubble gave us volumes and something to talk about in the market. Retailers all around the world have been asking for this watch. We get inquires every month about this product, for a timepiece that Corum stopped producing in 2005. Ten years on, people were still asking for it. So that was feedback from the market that we clearly paid attention to. In the Admiral collection, we needed the flags back because this defined the identity of the collection – something that it was missing. And we introduced the round Golden Bridge this time. We are also launching a rectangular Golden Bridge.
On going local in overseas markets
Our growth is product-driven. All our partners are local. We either work with distributors like we do in this part of the world or set up subsidiaries that are run by locals, like we did in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. That makes a huge difference in helping us understand the market better. The feedback we get back in Switzerland from these markets is also, I would say, more colorful, more unfiltered. For example, when you are a French brand run by French people, the message you send outwards is very clear. But the feedback that comes back in is read through a cultural lens and this reading will never help you understand the diversity that the market is actually trying to communicate back.
How the downturn in the industry has helped
We have an advantage at a time like this because being a small volumes player, we can react more quickly. The slowdown has helped us because the supplier now works at a speed that would have been impossible five years ago. We had dial samples in five days. In the past, dial samples would have taken up to three months and about nine months for delivery. We have had deliveries in three months now. We’ve been lucky, we’ve had good year.
On the regional market
The Middle East is slated to be a big growth area for Corum in 2017. For us, 2016 was the clean-up year and we are really focussed on this region. In 2016 we had the US and Far East markets contributing heavily to our growth, we want the Middle East to do that as well this year. The Admiral and Bubble have done well here. We are confident that the Bubble will do well here and we are introducing some crazy editions like the Big Bubble (52mm). It is a big watch but it is comfortable to wear. But what’s interesting is that the request for a bigger bubble (bigger than the existing 47mm) actually came from Asia. Here is another example of a product developed based on feedback we received. Traditionally people assume that Asian markets prefer smaller dials, but that’s not true in this case.
Why Bubble needs to be crazy
The thing with the Bubble is that it needs to be crazy. It cannot be a run-of-the mill design. Whenever it’s not been crazy, it’s not done well. People are looking for specific dials. For example, in Italy we learned that the Diablo and the Roulette dial sold out quickly. These dials were in the memory of clients and when the Bubble returned, clients wanted them. The DNA of Corum is about being different. The Bubble is different. That’s the reason why it’s done so well.
In-house movements are not everything
Eterna movements are being used in Bubble watches currently and we’ll see some more of them in the future. It really depends on the fit – for example, for a technical movement like the one we use in the Bridge collection, we prefer to work with specialists like Vaucher. We are not embarrassed to say that it’s not in-house. It is a great movement. We do a few movements very well and the Eterna movements are developing quickly. We are happy with the pace, but that doesn’t limit our creativity.